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Budgeting Basics: Part 1


Ashleigh NicholsRecently, I was asked if I know of any places to learn how to make a budget.

Well, I do in fact…but the places I know are for people who know how to make a basic budget already and who want to focus on using advanced budget making programs. The courses offered are more to hone your skills and make budgeting a smoother process.

I wanted to share tips with you on how to get started making a budget, if you haven’t made one before. I think paying someone who is a skilled budget-maker to create one for you is always the best choice, but maybe you cannot find the money to pay someone else.

So… lets start with the basics.


I believe that if you have never budgeted anything, you should start small. Start, with something short, perhaps you have a script that is only a few pages long with minimal locations and a pretty straightforward storyline. Try to find something like this to use just for the exercise of learning to budget. You will need to first read the script, then break it down. Even if you want to learn to budget a huge Network TV show with tons of explosions and spfx, you need to know the basics first. If you do not know which departments are involved in a scene with an explosion…how can you even begin to make a budget and knowing the costs for that scene in a big budget film?

Starting small will also help you to be as accurate as you can. Accuracy is key in budgeting. Having a budget that is way under what the actual costs are… can be REALLY bad. You also do not want to be way under budget either, because then you could have spent more money in certain departments and anyone who invests money in the project wants to make sure their money is being well spent, and you want to be accurate to show them you are professional and on top of things.


In order to create a budget you will need to breakdown the script. Breaking down a script is something your department heads will do for their departments and your Assistant Director will do for scheduling purposes. But… you need to do one so you know what needs to be budgeted. If you do not break down a script you could miss locations in a flashback, a wig a character wears in two scenes, but not all of her scenes and other details that you may not catch just reading the script.

A breakdown, will help you keep track of characters, locations, props, night vs. day scenes, costumes, spfx, cars, stunts, and every other details when budgeting. Granted, the script could and most likely will change from the time you first do a budget and breakdown to the time you shoot the project, but having a breakdown will allow you to be on top of changes and changes in budgeting, and will allow for easy budgeting changes.

Some of the budgeting programs allow you to break down the script in the same program as you budget, thus helping to synch the process of budgeting and breaking down. For our purposes…we will assume that we are using a homemade or shared template, most likely in Excel. So…you gotta do the work yourself. Break down the script. Whether you make a spreadsheet or a list, keep it organized, you will thank yourself, plus if you are one person band….then you are doing the work now that you would have to do later anyways.

Break down how many days you are at a location. Figure out how many and which actors are in which scenes. It is also important to note if a character has a change of appearance and if so, in which scenes. You will need to know if a character has a prop in multiple scenes. For example if scene 10 happens right after scene 9 and a character digs thru her large purse to find a lipgloss, she needs to have it in scene 9 as well, (storyline depending) for continuity. Your props breakdown will help with this.

Okay, so you are breaking down your script and you are confused as to how to break something down. Maybe you have a confusing element to your script. A script I was helping a friend breakdown was a bit confusing in the way that, there were three characters who were never seen, they were voice over only. So we had to think ahead…way ahead and ask ourselves how the voice over will be shot, even though this short was months away from even beginning pre-production, we had to make a choice, and it could change later but in order to move forward with this step we had to decide for now.


As you break down the script ask people questions. If you are only shooting in one location, let’s say it is a diner, but you are shooting in this diner for 5 days…think about what diner’s you have available to use. Do you have one you can shoot in all day any day? Are you only able to shoot in your diner one day a week for five weeks? Maybe you can shoot at night once the diner closes but you only have 10 hours from the time you land to the time you leave that you can be on the property…this could end up making the amount of shoot days longer then what you originally hoped for. If you need help figuring out how long it will take to shoot a scene, ask people who have experience scheduling a shoot. Let them know if you are working with a first time Director of Photography or maybe you are directing and acting and producing the project, these details help in determining how long a scene will take to shoot. The more info you have about the project will help you make a correct budget.

In Part II I will get into actually beginning the budgeting part! Let me know if this helpful or if you prefer to begin budgets in a different way.


Editor’s Note: Here are some budgeting programs that Ashleigh suggests:

My go to:  MovieMagic Budgeting- offers a tutorial, but it is best if you are familiar with budgeting
My Second Choice- offers a free trial, but you should really do that trial when you are actually trying to budget something.
Ashleigh Nichols

About Ashleigh Nichols

Ashleigh Nichols resides in Los Angeles with her husband, Eddie, and their Chihuahua mix, Nova. Together they work on their own projects as a wife-husband directing/producing/writing team. Through Owlet Pictures, they created the web series Coffee Shop Squatters, and the award winning short film Summer of the Zombies. Ashleigh is also working on a dramatic feature and creating a new web series, set to shoot later this year. While not working on her own projects, Ashleigh is currently an in house Production Manager at Ampersand Media. Before going in house she Production Managed several shows/Pilots for Comedy Central, HBO Go and Vh1, some of these include: The Jeselnik Offensive, The Burn, The Ben Show, Brody Stevens: Enjoy It! and Parental Discretion S2. Ashleigh is also honored to have Co-Produced the indie film The Historian, currently touring on the festival circuit.